Cashmere & Cognac

Sounds like a good recipe for a chill overcast Saturday in the city where Fall has suddenly crept in. But no, it's a lovely obit. for a jazz great who stayed local, Shirley Horn.

Horn started studying piano and composition at Howard University's School of Music when she was 12, with dreams of a career in classical music. But the realities of racism in the '40s precluded that possibility, and by the late '40s she'd become immersed in the thriving jazz scene around 14th and U streets NW. Debussy and Rachmaninoff gave way to Oscar Peterson, Wynton Kelly, Erroll Garner and Jamal. The girl piano player began to make an impression in local clubs, but even after forming her first trio in 1954, Horn was not one to advance herself. In fact, that Horn came to sing at all was part accident -- a patron bribed her to sing "Melancholy Baby" -- and part pragmatism: A club owner gave Horn a raise on the condition that she keep singing.
That Miles Davis became a fan via Horn's 1960 debut album, "Embers and Ashes," was part miracle: few copies were manufactured and they were hard to find. Yet Davis managed to and became smitten, playing it so much at home that his kids could sing along to it. A year later, he invited Horn to open for him at the Village Vanguard, though that opportunity almost passed. When he called her and made the offer, Horn didn't believe it was really Davis. She hung up. But Davis sent her a train ticket to New York, and she went.